A 90-year-old woman has become the first person to receive an approved Covid-19 vaccine in the western world—the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine approved last week for emergency use in the U.K.—as the nation’s National Health Service (NHS) embarks on “V-Day,” a term ministers are using to describe the biggest immunization campaign in the organization’s history.
At 06:31 GMT, Margaret Keenan, who will turn 91 next week, received the world’s very first shot of a clinically approved Covid-19 vaccine at University Hospital, Coventry, describing it as the “best early birthday present.”
Keenan will require another shot in a few weeks in order to be fully protected.
The nurse who administered Keenan’s vaccine, May Parsons, said it was a “privilege” to do so, adding that she is glad to be “able to play a part in this historic day.”
In the first stages of the campaign, the NHS will be rolling out enough doses of the recently-approved vaccine to inoculate 400,000 people, prioritizing care home staff and hospital patients over the age of 80.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock broke down in tears during one television interview Tuesday. Hancock said he felt “conflicted emotions” on the morning of the vaccine’s rollout. On one hand, he said he is “thrilled and delighted” to watch the first people receive their shots. On the other hand, Hancock said there are challenging months ahead while the vaccine is distributed. “This virus is still deadly,” he said. “We’ve still got a long way to go on this… but we all can see that we have a route out.”
The second Covid-19 jab went to an 81-year-old man named William Shakespeare, also at University Hospital, Coventry.
A safe and effective vaccine, distributed well, is the best way of bringing the Covid-19 pandemic under control. There are a number of promising candidates in various stages of development, most notably those by Pfizer and BioNTech, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, and Moderna. The U.K. became the first western country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine last Wednesday, a feat not yet matched by other countries. Decisions from other regulators, especially the U.S.’ Food and Drug Administration, are hotly anticipated, and expected in a matter of days and weeks.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
As vaccines begin to move from development to distribution, attention will be shifting to supply chains and logistics. The operation, which would be complex for ordinary vaccines, are complicated greatly by the ultra-cold storage requirements of Pfizer’s vaccine and suppliers, including Pfizer and AstraZeneca, are already walking back estimates on how much they are able to produce. Security is also an issue, with international police agency Interpol warning that vaccines will almost certainly be a target for organized criminals.
The U.S., which is expected to approve Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine for emergency use as early as Thursday, could be left waiting until June to secure more than its initial 100 million doses of the vaccine, enough for 50 million people. The New York Times reports that the Trump administration passed up on the opportunity to buy more and may now have to wait while the company fulfils its obligations elsewhere.